The ‘CSI’ Franchise Wouldn’t Be the Same Without This Crucial Piece

The Big Picture

  • The CSI franchise utilized songs by The Who as the perfect musical introduction for each show, setting the tone and drawing in audiences with their recognizable and beloved tracks.
  • The theme songs, such as “Who Are You” for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and “Baba O’Riley” for CSI: New York, succinctly captured the essence of each show’s forensic crime-solving theme, creating a powerful connection between the music and its narrative.
  • The use of The Who’s songs in the CSI franchise brought cohesiveness to the series, establishing a common element that helped each show gain traction while reminding audiences of the band’s monumental musical hits. The success of the franchise may not have been the same without the iconic music.

The CSI franchise is known for many things: cutting-edge crime-solving gadgets, snarky one-liners, long, drawn-out pauses, and dimly lit rooms that are great for dramatic effect but seem impractical in a science lab. Nevertheless, the fascinating forensics the CSI franchise so flawlessly introduced to audiences makes for captivating television. One of the most recognizable aspects of the franchise is the use of music to set the tone and draw in audiences. It is virtually impossible not to sing along to “Who Are You” the moment the opening credits of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (and CSI: Vegas) start up. The response is almost Pavlovian.

And it isn’t just CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Each show in the franchise has its unique song from the incredible catalog of The Who. CSI: Miami has “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” CSI: New York has “Baba O’Riley,” and CSI: Cyber has “I Can See For Miles.” Each is different, and each one so perfectly suited to its particular franchise show that it is impossible to imagine the shows without their musical introduction.

Not only are the songs ideally suited to each show, but they are also the glue that holds the franchise together. Sure, the shows had cross-over episodes to introduce each spin-off in a relatively organic manner, but the most telling way to know you’re watching a CSI show is to listen to the opening credits. If you hear the soulful vocals and perfect pitch of Roger Daltrey paired with vibrant visuals of investigators pulling guns one minute and looking through microscopes the next, you can bet you’re watching a CSI series. The franchise, as a whole, was a home run, and it may have been just as successful with a different musical interlude, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the same.

Image via CBS/Paramount


CSI is a procedural franchise of American television series created by Anthony E. Zuiker. The first three CSI series follow the work of forensic scientists as they unveil the circumstances behind mysterious deaths, while the fourth series, CSI: Cyber, emphasizes behavioral psychology and how it can be applied to cyber forensics.

Created by
Anthony E. Zuiker

First TV Show
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Latest TV Show
CSI: Vegas

“Who Are You” Defined ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’

When Anthony E. Zuiker‘s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation hit the CBS network waves, it was groundbreaking in the police procedural genre. This wasn’t your ordinary cop drama. The crime scenes were gritty and exotic, and the characters were not the show’s true stars; it was all about high-tech forensic science. So, how do you set up a novel take on the formulaic tried-and-true for ultimate success? You capture hearts with nostalgia and grab attention with the unexpected. CSI did this perfectly. “Who Are You” immediately connected with audiences as a highly recognized and beloved song, and as an unforeseen intro for a crime show, piqued curiosity and drew interest. Who would have thought that an iconic rock anthem would pair perfectly with a show about forensic crime-solving? But it did.

Just like any other police drama, CSI is all about solving crimes. Sure, the show took a new approach with its science-driven methodologies, but the ultimate goal of each episode was to find “the who” in the whodunit (poor attempt at a pun intended). The show’s premise is about solving crimes using forensic investigative techniques, and the song “Who Are You” epitomizes this theme succinctly. The lyrics, “Who are you? I really want to know,” is the ideal sentiment for a show that always seems to uncover every criminal’s deep, dark secrets and find irrefutable science-backed evidence of guilt. To say that the theme song is a perfect fit is an understatement. The intro song helped audiences understand what the show was about without even watching a single moment of the actual episode. It is a powerful plot device that propels the crime-solving narrative forward in a way that cannot be overstated.

The Who’s Music Brought Cohesiveness to the ‘CSI’ Franchise

With the success of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the forensics-first procedural was an ideal candidate for replication. Anthony E. Zuiker, Ann Donahue, and Carol Mendelsohn took CSI to Miami with a new cast of enigmatic characters and a brand-new theme song that tied into the original series but defined its uniqueness. The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” gave audiences an intro they were familiar with but had a different sentiment and vibe. CSI: Miami’s main character, Horatio “H” Caine (David Caruso), embodies no-nonsense crime-solving. He is a character who not only won’t get fooled again but won’t get fooled the first time. With the lyrics “We don’t get fooled again” and edgy, futuristic melodies, this song is the perfect backdrop to the too-cool-for-school vibes of CSI: Miami.

With two mega hits in the CBS lineup, the CSI franchise branched out to the crime-laden streets of New York and included a stand-out cast with Gary Sinise, Melina Kanakaredes, and, in later seasons, Sila Ward. CSI: NY brought the same high-tech forensics to the Big Apple and threw in some new elements, such as criminal profiling, but at its core, the elements that made its predecessors so successful remained the same. Including its use of an epic song by The Who to tie it into the franchise and set the vibe for audiences. So, what song best taps into the scrappy nature of New York City? How about a song about earning what’s yours through hard work and determination? Luckily, The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is such a song.

The last show to join CBS’s CSI lineup was CSI: Cyber. This show centered around a specialized FBI team, led by Dr. Avery Ryan (Patricia Arquette), focused on solving cyber crimes across the United States. This attempt at a new take on the familiar forensics of previous spin-offs debuted to mixed reviews, and though the show was stacked with talents like James Van Der Beek, Peter MacNicol, and Ted Danson, the show was canceled after Season 2. One thing is for sure: the show wasn’t lacking where the theme song was concerned. As with the rest of the franchise, a song from The Who was selected. For a show about the deceitful nature of internet-related crimes and being able to see clearly through the anonymity of cyber offenders, one song just made sense: “I Can See for Miles.”

The Who Reached a New Generation Through ‘CSI’


The Who’s original lineup of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon produced eight chart-topping albums between 1964 and 1978. They are considered one of the most influential rock bands of the 20th century, and they are credited with originating the “rock opera,” a rock genre concept album in which all songs relate to an overarching theme. In 1982, The Who shut down, and with less money coming in, Pete Townshend decided to license some of his songs for use in TV, film, and commercials. In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Townshend remarked that despite some inferior uses of his music, CSI was not one of them. He even credited the CSI franchise with reminding audiences about The Who and their colossal catalog of musical hits.

The CSI franchise used The Who’s renowned songs to anchor each show by connecting the lyrics and each drama’s particular motifs. The opening credits drew audiences into the new and exciting world of forensic science with the help of a familiar musical companion. The cohesiveness of using a Who song in each CSI iteration endeared audiences and provided a common element that helped each subsequent series gain traction. Not only would the CSI franchise not be the same without its musical legacy, it likely would not have had the immense success it did. The songs set audience expectations perfectly. They gave a glimpse of what was to come along with a satisfying nostalgic nod to the past — the songwriting genius of The Who will forever be the fuel that ignited the long-burning CSI flame.

CSI is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.

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